סיון רהב מאיר
סיון רהב מאיר צילום: ללא קרדיט

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://inthelandoftheJews.blogspot.com)

What do we learn from Rashi?

Several daya ago we commemorated the passing of Rashi, the greatest Torah commentator, who lived in France. We can learn much Torah from him, of course, but we should also be mindful of some fundamental truths revealed through his work.

1. Human potential is incredibly vast. Rashi's commentary is amazing both in its quality and in its scope. Unique among the Torah giants of the Middle Ages, Rashi encompassed most of the Bible as well as nearly all of the Talmud in his commentaries, which were eagerly accepted by Jewish communities throughout the world.

2. Profundity and brevity go hand in hand. Rashi's commentary is clear and concise. He distills the wisdom of myriad sources, often Mishnaic, into a few words. When we read his commentaries, we learn that it is possible to combine brevity with clarity and depth.

3. Everything has meaning. Each word in the Bible and in the Talmud conveys a message. Rashi expounds on the importance of seemingly insignificant details. He has a unique way of looking at the Torah and at the world. Nothing is without purpose and our task is to find meaning in everything.

4. It's okay to acknowledge: "I don't know." How much honesty and humility are required to articulate those words? Throughout his commentary, the man whose name is synonymous with encyclopedic knowledge and unparalleled expertise in all areas of study is not ashamed to admit that he does not know everything. Perhaps in this way he is also encouraging us to look for an explanation that escaped him.

These are among the reasons that even on the that marks 917 (!) years after his passing, millions of Jews will be learning Torah with Rashi.

In his memory.

Here is the story of another memory:

Tehila Perl wrote me as follows:

"Today, Harel Cohen knocked on the door of my mother, Savta (grandma) Beracha Bramson, while she was in the middle of her 'Day Camp for Grandkids and Great-grandkids' that she runs during summer vacation.

Harel had come directly from the printing house with the first copies of a book edited by my father, Rabbi Yosef Bramson z"l. The subject of the book was his rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt'l, Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz haRav and son of the illustrious Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, zt"l, Israel's first Chief Rabbi.

The book had gone out of print years ago, but just four months ago, during his final days, my father asked Harel to prepare the book for its republication in a new edition.

And then, in the midst of a bread-baking workshop that Savta was directing for her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the special moment arrived: The offspring of Savta saw her receive the book written by Saba and then all recited together 'Mizmor LeTodah' (Song of Thanksgiving), a chapter from the book of Psalms.

And why was it clear to everyone that 'Mizmor LeTodah' was the psalm they would recite? And how is it that they all knew it by heart? Because Saba Yosef was a Holocaust survivor whose mother taught him this psalm in Bergen-Belsen. She had him repeat it again and again until he knew it by heart. She was ultimately murdered and this was his only memory of her. After the war, he made aliyah, educated generations of students, and raised a glorious family. He was accustomed to recite this psalm throughout his life at every opportunity on his journey thourhg it so as to pass it on from one generation to the next.

'For the Lord is good, His kindness is forever, His faith endures throughout the generations'".

What names do you give to your journeys and to your stops along the way?*

Let me illustrate the question with a story. Once a fire broke out next to the hotel where we were staying on Shabbat and we had to quickly leave our room together with our small children. An hour later the fire was put out and we returned to our hotel. I tried to calm the children but was left with the feeling that this had been a frightening experience for all of us.

Several weeks later, we were traveling in the same area and one of our children pointed at the hotel and excitedly said: "This is the place where we had so much fun when we ran out of the hotel."

We give names to the journeys we take and to the stops we make along the way. Any experience can be described in terms of the dry facts involved, but our commentary surrounding those facts is crucial. Is what we endured -- or are enduring now -- a failure or a precursor to success? Is what has happened to us a horrible embarrassment or a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow? Only we can determine that.

In the last Torah portion of Bamidbar, Masei, the names of our 42 encampments in the Sinai Desert are listed. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, a commentator living in Spain 700 years ago, wrote that all the places at whcih the nation stopped did not even have names before we arrived. The desert was empty, without landmarks. It was the nation of Israel that determined the name of each place. "Each place according to the intent (mindset of the nation)."

When the children of Israel were joyful and righteous, faithful and good, the places at which they stopped were called Mitkah and Har-Shefer, names signifying metikut (sweetness) and shipur (improvement). But when the people's spiritual condition deteriorated, the places where they stopped were called Charadah and Marah, names signifying fear and bitterness.

The decision is in our hands. What are the names we give to our journeys, and what are the names we give to the places where we stop along the way?

In our journey through life we also have many goals: to finish our studies, to get married, to raise our children, to find work. There is no reason to minimize these goals and the journeys required to reach them. Yet there is another important aspect to our journeys as I heard at the Shabbat table of *Rabbi Dudi and Chani Farkash* in Monsey, New York.

We do not only mark the end of the journey, the goal, but take note of the long and winding road we took to get there as well. That, too, is in the Torah portion of Masei that we read this past Shabbat.

Moshe Rabbeinu educates us regarding a certain world view: Life is not only about the graduation party, but about all the years of study that preceded it. It's not just about the wedding, but about all the years of being single and the search for our spouse. Neither is it only about the joy of giving birth, but also about the nine months of pregnancy. In other words, there is awesome importance attached to the process and not only to the result.

We should never think of the time it took to reach our destination as wasted, but instead as a precious resource utilized in the best possible way.

The Kotzker Rebbe lived his life in a manner that illustrates this point: *"I am never on the road to anywhere since I am always there." In other words, in everything I do, small or large, I am fully present and completely there, even at this very moment.